As Team Penske begins testing its brand new Acura ARX-05 in advance of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, new signee for the endurance races Graham Rahal is taking advantage of the chance to get to know the team and its drivers.
With a little testing already under his belt - he first tested with the team last week at Daytona International Speedway - Rahal revealed on "Trackside" Presented by Verizon that the environment within the team is a little different from what he expected.
"I would say (Penske) is more relaxed than I expected, but a lot of fun. We had a great time," Rahal told hosts Curt Cavin, IndyCar's Vice President of Communications, and Kevin Lee, IndyCar on NBCSN pit reporter and commentator.
That environment is helped by the Acura connection. Aside from his 2007 campaign in the Champ Car World Series, which used Ford engines, Rahal has raced with Honda engines in the back of his IndyCar chassis every year, and that connection means he's working with some familiar faces within the Penske and Acura camp. He also raced one of Michael Shank Racing's new Acura NSX GT3s at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, in the factory-run effort as the new cars premiered.
"It's with Acura, so it's family for me, with all my Honda guys and the HPD guys," said Rahal. "All the engineers who are working on the Acura are some of the guys who have worked on my car before in IndyCar. I know all of them, so at least there's no new faces on that side of things."
Rahal explained further that the relaxed environment is also, perhaps surprisingly, a result of the expansive organization, which dwarfs many other race teams, including Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with whom Rahal is a full-time competitor in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
"The IndyCar environment (with RLL) is lean, so everybody is so dedicated and focused on so many different areas that for a driver, it requires a lot more to be on your game," Rahal explained.
"With Penske, when I first got there - first, the shop is the size of Keystone Shopping Mall. There's a lot of people, 400+ employees. There's a lot of guys who are dedicated to a certain task, and they're very good at those tasks. From that standpoint, it's a little bit relaxed."
However, Rahal also knows that because the team is still testing, and early in its testing program at that, the intensity level has yet to be ramped up to where it will be on race weekends, especially at events like the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
"We're durability testing, we're pounding laps just doing long runs and stuff like that. It's not as intense yet. Now, ask me when we get to the (Rolex 24 at Daytona) or (the 12 Hours of Sebring), that's going to be a different feel to it, there's no doubt about that," Rahal added.
Further, Rahal is using the test days to get to know his new teammates, most notably Helio Castroneves, against whom Rahal sparred in IndyCar. He'll co-drive with Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, who like Rahal is a son of racing champion (Wayne Taylor).
Rahal noted that his impression of Castroneves as a teammate greatly differs from what he thought it would be.
"I had so many perceptions of Helio from competing against him. But then you compete with him, and the guy is awesome," Rahal said of his relationship with Castroneves. "He is very relaxed. He's obviously very quick, that doesn't surprise anybody. He's funny, that doesn't surprise anybody. But it's so cool to share the same car as him and learn from him as well. It's been a pretty good group so far."
Specifically, Rahal noted how Castroneves handles sharing a car with a driver who is significantly taller - Rahal stands at 6'2″ while Castroneves is 5'8″. The height difference means each driver requires different pedal positions, and while that may throw off some drivers, Rahal revealed that Castroneves didn't even bat an eye about it.
"I'm a tall guy. I need those pedals as far away as I can get them. There are guys I've raced with before, if you move them (five millimeters), some scream and cry like a little baby. Helio's the opposite. He's just like 'Yeah man, I'm good. You get 'em where you need them and I'll make it work.' I guess I didn't know that'd be what he's like. It's been awesome. We've had a great time so far."
Rahal also tested the ARX-05 at Sebring International Raceway this week as Penske continues its development work of the car and chassis ahead of its debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.